Were Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s latest policy initiatives inspired by watching children’s TV? The accusations have followed a recent keynote speech – denounced in many quarters as the worst defence initiative ever – given by the minister in which he called for the UK’s armed forces to refocus themselves from defending the UK from terrestrial foes to protecting the nation from possible alien aggression. Speaking to the Women’s Institute Annual General Meeting in London, Williamson told his audience that Brexit would present the UK’s defence forces with the ‘perfect opportunity’ to turn away from the petty earth-bound perspective of Europe and NATO and instead embrace a wider vision, a vision that acknowledged that the threats of tomorrow would come, not jut from beyond Europe, but from beyond the Earth itself. “We need a new integrated defence force which will encompass the full spectrum of technology in order to combat the alien threat,” he told the assembled delegates. “We need whole new concepts, such as giant flying aircraft carrier which can deploy anywhere in the world to meet possible extraterrestrial attacks – it would be equipped with advanced interceptor aircraft, all flown by women so as to demonstrate our commitment to equal opportunities in our armed forces! We’d even institute a thoroughly modern colour-based rank system to replace our current antiquated system of ranks.”
The similarity of these proposals to the 1960s Gerry Anderson puppet series Captain Scarlet has been noted by a number of commentators. “It surely can’t be coincidence,” muses Harry Balsam, Senior Lecturer in Defence Studies at the Walsall College of Bakery. “I mean, it’s obviously ’Cloudbase’ and the Angel Interceptors he’s talking about, isn’t it?” Balsam noted further similarities between the children’s TV series and Williamson’s policy proposals. “He also went on about having ground based fast combat vehicles which would be concealed inside fake barns, trucks and the like,” he says. “Surely that’s just the Spectrum Special Pursuit Vehicle (SPV)? Next thing, he’ll be claiming that only electricity can kill the aliens!” This isn’t the first time that Williamson’s ideas have raised eyebrows, with his suggestions of fitting expensive guns’ onto tractors and disguising missile launchers as Coca Cola lorries as part of his ‘vision’ to enhance the UK’s defence capabilities being widely ridiculed. More recently, he has proposed the deployment of swarms of drones to overwhelm enemy air defences and driverless robot tanks. “At least the stuff he’s more recently lifted from Captain Scarlet sounds more sophisticated,” opines Balsam. “Not to mention more feasible and more coherent as an actual defence policy.”
But Captain Scarlet isn’t the only Gerry Anderson series the Defence Secretary has seemingly been taking inspiration from, as a subsequent speech to the Girl Guides Annual Jamboree, he called for the establishment of a first line of defence outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. “We must establish a moonbase which can give us early warning of alien attacks, “ he enthused. “It should be able to deploy its own interceptors – but advances in technology means that only three will be required. And they’ll only need one missile each.” He added that a fleet of submarines which could launch a jet fighter from their bows was also planned to supplement the Earth based forces, ‘so as the Navy won’t feel left out’. “For God’s sake, this is just UFO,” exclaims Balsam. “Next thing he’ll be suggesting a secret Earth defence headquarters hidden beneath a film studio!” Reports that, during the address, Williamson was wearing a white polyester wig similar to that sported by Ed Bishop when he played Commander Straker in UFO, have been vehemently denied by his office.
Apart from why he is using children’s TV shows as inspiration for defence policy, the other question raised by Williamson’s recent utterances is why is he suddenly targeting aliens as the main defence threat? Balsam believes it might be the result of the criticism he faced after a previous speech seemed to single out China as the main future threat to the UK. “He took a lot of flak for that from within his own party,” the academic says. “He’d failed to co-ordinate with senior colleagues and succeeded in offending the Chinese government just as the Chancellor and International Trade Secretary were about to hold talks with China to try and thrash out a vital post-Brexit trade deal. Thanks to Williamson, the talks were called off.” Balsam speculates that Williamson has decided that demonising aliens will be less damaging than targeting any terrestrial regimes. “Unless, of course, the little green bastards are monitoring our broadcasts,” he says. “In which case we’ll be facing an alien invasion before we’ve had a chance to put any of his lunatic defences in place!”
Williamson has, however, received some support for his Gerry Anderson-derived policy proposals. “Look, those TV series were years ahead of their time with the technology they were showing,” contends Curt Friars, political analyst of Space Retro TV magazine. “Moreover, it is quite unfair to try and demean the validity of his ideas because they are derived from so called children’s TV series – those shows were highly sophisticated and have always attracted a significant adult audience. They’ve proven hugely inspirational for many viewers. Oh, and UFO never was aimed at children – it was shown in a prime time adult slot in the 1970s.” Friars has also suggested that Williamson only turned to Gerry Anderson for inspiration after reading an official Ministry of Defence paper on ‘The Future of Warfare’. “Apparently, this document – written after consultation with top MoD experts – suggested propeller driven aircraft without wings which could be used to chase enemy soldiers along the ground. It allegedly argued that they would be terrified of those whirling propellers,” he sighs. “Another of its suggetions was that future wars should be fought underwater by armies of frogmen – like in a James Bond film – as this would reduce the risks of collateral damage to the civilian population and infrastructure, (but not fish). With stuff like that, is it any wonder he was driven to watch kids’ TV?”